Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces ... They deported us en masse. ... And because of all this we were free. —Jean-Paul Sartre, "Paris Under the Occupation", 1944
It's a funny thing. 2017 was an insane year in the United States of America. We watched our ever-fragile democracy crash suddenly into a wall. A party led by blatant racists who lie and cheat without shame claimed the right to govern over us, threatening a new age of tyranny by the few and serfdom for the masses, leaving us with barely a plank to stand upon as we scrambled to figure out how to fight back.
But we did spend the year fighting back, and many of us know exactly what Jean-Paul Sartre meant when he described the Nazi occupation of Paris as his period of greatest freedom. I've been feeling this freedom myself — an almost giddy sense of danger and self-reliance in the face of widespread helplessness and shame. If you spent the year protesting Trump, you may have felt it too. Personally, I had a great, exciting year in 2017. I felt strong, determined, connected and fully alive.
Is it gratuitous to compare our struggle against American fascism to Jean-Paul Sartre's struggle against Hitler's fascism? I don't think so, even though the horrors of war and genocide have not descended upon our homeland yet. We are now waiting for these horrors to come, and if we don't remove Trump they inevitably will. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. It took him six years to start a war and a genocide, and it took the world six more years to bring this tragic inferno to its pathetic end.
If we do not manage to defeat Trump soon, the wars and genocides will come, and millions will suffer. We may or may not be among the millions who die, but we must resolve to be among the millions who resist. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir did resist, though admittedly they had a rather easy time of it in Hitler's Paris, just as we still do in the first year of Trumpified America. We have Starbucks; Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir had cafe au lait. But that doesn't mean we're taking it easy. Heroism is measured not in suffering but in courage. We ourselves don't yet know what horrors the fascists now inhabiting government offices in Washington DC will inflict upon us next. But we do know that we will be brave and selfless as we face it down. Jean-Paul Sartre lived with the same certainty, and his heroic convictions can be felt in every word he wrote.
The first freedom we gain when we resist fascism is a certain freedom from self-doubt. We may sometimes worry that our individual lives are pointless in the grand scheme, that we may help ourselves and a few around us, but can do nothing to help humanity as a whole. But, when our government falls into a hole from which it must be rescued, and when our entire society begins to slip into that hole and threatens to drag everything and everyone we care about down with it, we find we suddenly have a purpose. Our purpose is to avoid falling into that hole, and to help drag our broken culture back out of the grimy cesspool in any way we can.
It always annoys some Trump supporters to find that anti-Trump protesters in the United States of America feel emboldened and glorious when we fight. Well, we can only answer that if these so-called "conservatives" do not wish to turn common American liberals and progressives into heroes, perhaps they could refrain from continually creating disasters that we liberals need to fix.
(Unfortunately, even as I write these words, there is little sign that anyone in the Republican party is willing to stop creating disasters. We are apparently only days away from the passage of a tax bill that fulfills Paul Ryan's grossest Ayn Randian fantasies. The #GOPTaxScam will surely lead to another economic crash, just as the pro-wealth economic policies of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan led to short-term rises followed by disastrous crashes.)
Here's another way we have become free in the new age of American fascism: we will never again have to endure the bullshit myth of "American exceptionalism". The idea that the United States of America has some higher standard of democracy and liberty than most other countries of the world has long been questionable. Now, the public embarrassment of the selfish slob Trump sitting in the White House, protected by the mealy-mouthed Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in Congress and the Supreme Court with the stolen seat, has freed us from this illusion forever. America is just another banana republic, vulnerable at the highest levels to authoritarianism and corruption, and it will only ever be as great as its leaders and its citizens allow it to be.
Similarly, the bullshit myth that the US Constitution is some kind of sacred document with magical powers to protect us from tyranny is forever put to rest. The Constitution allowed Donald Trump to waltz into the White House and govern "with a mandate" even though Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes. When Trump was elected, some said that "checks and balances" would prevent him and his oligarchic cronies from looting our treasury while ruling with an iron hand. A year later, we see that the people have managed to stand up to Trump with vigorous and loud direct action, but it's not clear that our own elected officials (fed by the same corporate donors that prop up Trump) are willing to do so. We now see the US Constitution for what it is: a piece of paper that's exactly as good or bad as we allow it to be. The doctrine known as "Constitutional originalism" survived too long before Trump; it will not survive Trump at all.
On a personal note, the stolen election of November 8 2016 allowed me to free myself from a desire to truly understand American conservative ideology in a positive light. I spent much of the past decade and a half, including the periods of the Iraq War, the economic crash of 2007/2008 and the battle for Obamacare conversing and debating with friends and relatives who proudly called themselves conservative. This words could mean different things to different people: "economic conservative", "Christian conservative", "Burkean conservative", "Tea Party", "Libertarian". I tried really hard to understand all of these points of view, and even attempted to bend my own brain backwards enough to understand what the world looks like when viewed through the distorted prism of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
In 2017, I'm done with these debates. It's now clear that the reductio ad absurdum of American conservativism, and of unregulated American capitalism, is Donald Trump. The conservative friends I used to have long, fascinating debates with may feel ashamed, or they may be too long drenched in their own hypocrisy to feel ashamed. These friends remain my friends ... and in many cases I don't even blame them for voting for Trump. It's nobody's fault when they get conned by a con-man. However, these friends will need to struggle to gain back their intellectual self-respect, because the Trump/Ryan/McConnell government has now abused their entire ideology in service of a blatant, cruel fraud. I'll no longer bother trying to meet my American conservative friends halfway in political debate. This is a kind of freedom that feels especially good to me.
I know this sense of freedom won't last forever ... and I must confess that as I write these words I worry that I am indulging too much of my own pride in the spirit of the #resistance, and that I may eventually find myself deluded and drenched in my own hypocrisy. But I am writing not for myself but for all of us who fight against tyranny. We need to keep our spirits up, so that we never stop fighting, at any cost, at any risk, until victory or the bitter end.